Apple gives book creators beautiful, golden handcuffs

Today Apple raised the bar on interactive textbook publishing, with the introduction of a revamped iBooks app for the iPad and a free textbook publishing app for the Mac. If you’ve got an iPad, a fairly new Mac, and a big pile o’ knowledge to share with the world, you can now create a really awesome digital textbook for free (minus iPad/Mac costs, of course).

I’m not going to comment on the software, as I’m still downloading it as I type this entry. And other sites are doing a great job of covering today’s Apple press conference, so I’m not going to give Apple more free PR if I can help it. I mean, unless they want to pay me.

But I would like to point out one important catch. The fancy new textbook authoring software that Apple is giving away, iBooks Author, comes with a big restriction in its license agreement, and it’s that you can only sell your textbook in Apple’s iBooks store. (Click image for full-size screenshot of the license from the App Store page.) If you want to give your new textbook away for free, Apple has no problem with that. But if you want to sell it yourself or use some other retailer, no dice. You go through iBooks, meaning through Apple, and you give Apple a cut of the profits. Or you don’t use iBooks Author to make your fancy new digital textbook.

That, of course, is why iBooks Author is free. It’s sort of like if the company started giving away Pages, but required that all novels typed with the app belonged to the Apple Store.

So download it, play with it, learn from it. But take a good look at the terms before you invest any real labor in using it, because whatever you end up producing is going to be under Apple’s control for a long, long time.

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